by Tara Wilson
Imagine stepping into a ring with your well trained dog and proceeding to spend the next several minutes mastering a course set up with teeter totters, a-frames, jumps, tunnels, and other obstacles. The clock is ticking, and each mistake is counted against you. You and your dog are working perfectly together as a team, and as your dog sails over the last jump you know that few activities with your dog are as challenging or as satisfying as agility!
So, what is dog agility, you might ask? It is a sport where you navigate through a numbered course while the timer is going. Out on the course are various obstacles. You will encounter such obstacles as a tall a-frame that your dog has to go up and over. The dog walk is a long, thin plank that has an up and down slope. Your dog has to run over it as fast as possible without falling off. The teeter totter is nearly identical to those found on a playground. The dog goes up the board, and then waits while it falls and runs down the other side. There are also jumps to go over and tunnels to run through.
One of the more entertaining obstacles for dogs is the chute, which is a tunnel that is closed on one end by a sheet-like curtain. The dog runs into the open end and has to push through blindly to get out the other side. It takes a lot of trust on the dog’s part to run full speed through an obstacle that appears to have a solid end.
One of the most challenging obstacles to teach the dog is the weave poles. These are 6-12 stakes put into the ground in a straight line. The dog has to weave back and forth between them as fast as possible. It’s amazing to watch a well trained dog execute the weave poles!
There are several different organizations that hold agility trials. My favorite venue to participate in is Canine Performance Events. In CPE agility trials your dog competes against other dogs of the same size and training level that he is. As he gets better and gains qualifying scores, he will continue to move up to harder levels.
There are different agility games in CPE that challenge both the dog and the handler. The game that is hardest for me is Jackpot. You are given a set time to gather points by doing obstacles out on the field. When the whistle blows you have to run over to the side of the course and direct you dog over several sequential obstacles while you stay on the other side of a line that is drawn on the course. It can be very frustrating to be pointing at an obstacle while your dog is standing and staring at you!
In this area there are a few ways to get involved in agility. I teach some of the basic obstacles in my Basic Manners class at K-9 Action . For people who enjoy it, I have an advanced class that is called the Intro to Agility class. In that class I teach all of the obstacles as well as how to put them together into a short sequence. This class is designed for people and their dogs to decide if they enjoy agility enough to pursue it further. The dogs have a blast and their owners always learn a lot!
For those that want to get more seriously involved in agility, Geri Lu Jurey teaches agility classes that range from absolute beginners to very experienced dogs and handlers. I take my own dogs to Geri Lu for ongoing agility training. She has a beautiful facility and fun classes! She also does agility game nights and potlucks around the holidays that are a lot of fun to go to! She has been competing in agility for over a decade, and has won many awards and titles with her dogs.
Whether you compete in agility or just train for fun, the rewards are numerous. The sense of teamwork you develop with your dog is such a joy! It is also great exercise for both the dog and the handler. Many people enjoy competition, and dog agility provides an outlet for that. You are able to earn ribbons and certificates. It’s a lot of fun to come home with a handful of blue ribbons after a great weekend of competing with your dog.
I also enjoy the travel that is involved with agility. It’s interesting to stay at new hotels and discover new places to eat. Dog agility can be quite addictive. I encourage you to give it a try and see if it might be a new activity for you and your dog to share together!
Check out our article on pet travel tips.